8 Effective Time Management Strategies for Students

by | Nov 18, 2023 | Parenting

High school and college students are busy. They have many demanding responsibilities, including academics, extracurricular activities, jobs, and social life. It can be hard to balance it all.

As a result, they can feel overwhelmed and stressed for time — leading to higher stress levels and procrastination.

However, developing effective time management strategies can help students gain control over their time and schedule. So they can increase their productivity and find a balance between their responsibilities and time for themselves.

Benefits of time management skills for students

High school and college are busy times. Students are learning how to balance various responsibilities, such as academics, work, and taking care of themselves, while trying to find time for personal pursuits, interests, and friendships. Additionally, their workload and responsibilities are often becoming more challenging, such as increased homework or more complex classes.

For many students, it’s during this period that they realize their old ways of managing their time don’t quite hold up — leaving them feeling overwhelmed, risking getting behind, and not having time for themselves or their friendships. This pattern can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and burnout.

But, mastering effective time management skills can help students:

  • Regain control over their schedule and time
  • Increase productivity and success
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Increase confidence
  • Have time for social activities, relaxation, and pursuing personal interests and hobbies
  • Be more independent
  • Prevent procrastination
  • Enhance decision-making and planning skills, like the ability to prioritize tasks

Developing these skills also sets them up for success throughout their life, making the transition from high school to college and college to post-college work life easier.

How to start developing better time management skills

Before reading about various strategies, it’s helpful to take a step back and clarify the bigger picture — so they understand why working on time management can help them now.

Taking time to do this step can help increase your student’s motivation to learn and use new strategies and provide insights on the type of techniques that can best help them right now.

Here are some questions your high school or college student can ask themselves to gain clarity:

  • How will improving my time management skills help me right now?
  • What are my current time management challenges?
  • What is my goal? Or, what improvements will I notice in my daily life when I’m effectively managing my time?

8 Effective time management techniques for high school and college students

Time management strategies are not one-size-fits-all. Instead, you can adjust and adapt techniques to better fit your specific needs and situation.

Here are some core time management strategies that can help high school and college students make the most of their waking hours.

1. Identify clear goals and priorities.

Knowing what’s most important to you will help you better plan and prioritize your day-to-day tasks so you’re always moving forward on what’s most important to you. So, take time periodically to establish your most important goals and priorities. These can be long-term pursuits, like obtaining a specific degree, or short-term ones, like looking for a job.

By clarifying your long and short-term goals, you can set up your priorities to make sure you’re leaving time to work toward those pursuits.

For students, their year often has a predictable structure — fall semester, spring semester, and summer. Take advantage of that natural flow and set aside time to review your goals and priorities at the start of each of those periods to ensure you’re focusing on what’s most important to you right now.

Break down long-term goals into short-term goals.

You may need to break up long-term goals into smaller ones. For instance, obtaining your degree is a multi-year pursuit.

To avoid getting overwhelmed, break it down into specific tasks you’ll need to achieve over shorter blocks. This ensures you focus on what you must do to obtain your big-picture goals.

Also, this can help remind you of how these short-term goals are helping you, which can increase your motivation when faced with a challenge or barrier (like a class you have to take but don’t enjoy).

2. Evaluate how you’re currently spending your time.

Take time to understand how you’re currently spending your time. Look for what’s working well and periods where you’re losing time.

Examining how you spend your day can help you:

  • Understand your periods of high and low energy or focus so you can plan tasks that match your energy levels
  • Identify where you’re losing time
  • Identify challenges or barriers that are interfering with getting things done, such as perfectionism, anxiety, or trouble staying focused
  •   Help you better plan your time

3. Conduct a time audit to help you identify how long certain tasks actually take.

You can set a more realistic daily schedule if you understand how much time you need to set aside for your tasks. For instance, knowing how much time you typically need for homework, studying, or getting ready in the morning can help you plan your day better.

A time audit can help you better understand how you’re using your time, how long tasks are taking, and what is working well (and not working as well) in your schedule. It can also help you better plan your time moving forward and avoid overscheduling yourself.


  • Write down how you’re spending your time and how long each task takes over a week to establish a baseline.
  • When tracking time, try looking at your watch or a clock when you’re starting a new task and then again at the end. You don’t need to track your time down to the seconds. You just want a general understanding of how long tasks are taking.
  • While tracking your time, note if you notice you’re losing focus on a task or feel like you’re dragging your heels. This information can help you identify where you may need to plan breaks or try to do certain tasks at different times of the day when you have more energy.

4. Identify distractions and “time-wasting” activities that make your tasks take longer.

Now that you have a better understanding of your goals, priorities, and how you’re spending your time, look for distractions or activities that are “time-wasters” you engage in when you’re supposed to be working on a task.

For instance, many people get distracted by their phones. They may be working, hear a notification, and tell themselves, “I’ll just take a quick peek.” But this turns into 10, 20, or 30 minutes (or more) texting, checking social media, or watching an online video.

This will give you insights into how you’re losing time throughout your day so you can reclaim this time.


  • Be honest with yourself, but also don’t judge yourself. Everyone gets distracted.
  • Be specific about what distracted you, and note what you were working on then.
  • Estimate how much time the distraction took.
  • Remove access to common distractions, such as turning on your phone’s Do Not Disturb function or using quiet spaces with minimal distractions from others.

5. Create a personalized schedule.

As a student, you have a certain flow to your day. For instance, high schoolers will be in classes for a set time. College students’ day-to-day may vary more, but they will have specific time blocks set aside for classes and maybe a job.

Blocking off the time for the set activities that occur weekly helps you visualize your time and better understand the flow of your week. This helps you know how much time you actually have available each day (and when) so you can organize and plan more effectively.

Creating a schedule that showcases the flow of your week can help you:

  • Understand the flow of your weeks and where you have available time
  • Avoid double-booking your time
  • Ensure you’ve accounted for your priorities or “must-dos”
  • Maximize your time
  • Organize your days effectively
  • Avoid missing activities


  • You’ll want something that’s easy for you to use to set your schedule. You can use a planner, an app, a spreadsheet, or other tool. Just select something that works for you.
  • Don’t forget to add recurring tasks like laundry, cooking, sports practices, and extracurriculars when setting your schedule.

6. Create a to-do list that fits you.

Having a set plan helps ensure you focus on what’s important to you. However, how detailed the plan is or what it looks like can vary. The goal is to create a to-list or plan that fits you so you’ll actually use it.

So feel free to try out different methods or adjust what you’re doing to help you find an approach that works for you. That said, try a technique or strategy long enough to properly evaluate it.


  • Find tools that work for you. Some people like using paper-and-pencil tools like a planner, and others prefer digital options. There’s no right or wrong!
  • Put in deadlines or due dates to ensure tasks get done on time.
  • Use a method that works for you. Some people like to create a weekly to-do list, a daily to-do list, or an ongoing one. How you structure your list is up to you.
  • Create a system that you’ll use consistently.
  • Make it easy to use and maintain. If your system is too complicated, you won’t use it. So make it something fun and easy to use.
  • Set aside time in your schedule to create your to-do list. For instance, if you prefer setting up daily to-dos, set aside time at the end of the day to create the next day’s list. If you prefer setting up a weekly to-do, set aside time the day before the start of your week to create the list.

7. Be realistic about what you can accomplish each day.

Many people overestimate what they can achieve in a day. This is often due to underestimating how long tasks take, called the planning fallacy.

So, after setting your schedule and to-do list, evaluate your plan for whether it’s realistic. This step can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed or getting behind on tasks.


  • Organize the day’s tasks in terms of priorities so you complete the most important tasks.
  • Conduct a time audit if you find yourself regularly expecting yourself to accomplish more than what’s possible.


8. Plan breaks into your schedule — at the right time.

Taking breaks is essential, especially when doing deep work like studying or writing. Taking purposeful breaks can help you:

  • Feel refreshed and more energized
  • Increase your productivity
  • Increase your focus

For example, if you have a three-hour study block, you can plan in some brief (5 to 10-minute) intentional breaks. Plan the breaks so they enhance your flow and aren’t a disruption. For instance, if you tend to lose focus after reading and note-taking for 30 minutes, plan on a 5-minute break after every 30-minute session.

But you may find you need more (or less) frequent breaks for certain types of tasks. So, monitoring when you find yourself naturally losing focus or getting distracted can be helpful. That will provide insights on when you should plan an intentional break.

In addition to breaks when doing tasks, make sure you plan fun, relaxing, or enjoyable activities throughout your week. We need downtime (ideally each day) to pursue things we enjoy and for social activities.


  • Be thoughtful about the types of tasks you do during scheduled study breaks. Look for things that help you feel rejuvenated, like taking a five-minute stretch break, walking to the kitchen to get water, or a five-minute breathing exercise.
  • When taking quick breaks (like study breaks), avoid going on social media. You can end up spending more time than you meant, and this can lead to you feeling more distracted once you return to your work.
  • Plan time in your day or week for intentionally “zoning out” or to do nothing. This gives our brains a break and can spark our creativity. What this looks like or how long you do this will depend on what works for you, so play around and try different things. For example, try taking a walk at the end of the day where you intentionally don’t listen to anything, like music, podcasts, or audiobooks. Instead, it’s you, nature (or urban) sounds, and your thoughts.


How parents can help their high school student develop effective time management skills

Acquiring reliable time management skills takes time and consistency. Additionally, students may need to adjust and tailor some strategies to better fit them. So, having a supportive, knowledgeable person to discuss what they’re trying can be helpful.

As parents, you can help support them and be a safe resource to help them as they learn what time management strategies work best for them. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Talk with them (not at them) about time management strategies. Ask them what is working for them and what areas or tasks they may find challenging to stay on top of.
  • Help them brainstorm or adapt strategies to fit their unique needs and situations better.
  • Share what works and doesn’t work for you.
  • Let them know that you notice them working on using the skills and techniques and the benefits you see as a result of their efforts.
  • Ask them what you can do to best help and support them. Their answers may surprise you! Regardless, they’ll know you care and are there for them whenever they need help.

You can learn time management skills.

Figuring out what time management approaches work best for you can sometimes feel overwhelming for people, especially if you’re not used to prioritizing or organizing your time.

Fortunately, time management is a learnable skill. It takes time, some trial and error, and developing consistent habits. But time management skills will help you now and throughout your life.

Struggling to develop effective time management skills? Our licensed psychologists at North Shore Psychological Services can help you. Together, we can help you identify challenges to your schedule, find strategies and tools that best work for you, and provide the support and insights you need.